Cork progress but Dublin expose our frailties

Rebels survived a fretful season on the long road back to re-discovering the glory days
Cork progress but Dublin expose our frailties

Dublin's Paddy Small hands off with Sean Powter during the All-Ireland quarter-final. INPHO/Evan Treacy.

IF Cork were offered a division 2 league place again in 2023 and an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance back in mid-March, they’d have ripped your arm off.

It was all gloom, a fourth defeat in five against Meath in Navan left Cork vulnerable to relegation and all its consequences with just a couple of games to save their season.

They survived by winning their closing games against fellow strugglers Down and Offaly who were both condemned to the third tier next season along with missing out on the All-Ireland series, now confined to divisions 1 and 2.

The realities of Cork’s standing, though, were exposed once again come championship time, heavy losses to Kerry in Munster and Dublin at the weekend with wins over promoted Louth and Limerick sandwiched in between.

The ’big two’ have identified the wide gulf Cork must try and bridge in all aspects, beginning with reducing the number of scores conceded.

It’s ironic Cork kept clean sheets against Kerry and the Dubs having leaked goals in every other outing, including three at home to Galway in the league.

Wisely, Cork went for damage-limitation on both occasions, withdrawing Sean Powter as a seventh defender, but with knock-on effects further up-field.

While there’s some satisfaction in restricting Kerry and Dublin to 0-23 and 0-21 respectively, scoring 0-11 and 0-10 doesn’t cut it either, however.

And that’s the conundrum facing Cork in the future which will see a horses-for-courses approach in next season’s league, which is expected to be even more challenging with Dublin, Derry and Kildare on board along with Meath under new management.

And yet, Cork know what it takes to get the job done against Louth and Limerick though Clare will always be sticky.

Of course, promotion will be the aim, but the reality is that a mid-table finish, free of the mental anguish associated with relegation, would be a step forward.

There’s plenty of encouragement, too, like the introduction of so many new faces due to the high injury count and the scoring exploits of Steven Sherlock and joint-captain Brian Hurley.

The St Finbarr’s sharp-shooter more than justified his recall by totalling 1-61 in both league and championship, 1-36 and 0-25 respectively.

Sherlock impressed in open play and from placed-balls, such an important element in the game, finishing with 0-38 frees, a couple of ‘45s and a ‘mark.’ Hurley, released from the pressure of free-taking, contributed 3-30, 1-22 and 2-8 respectively, scoring 3-20 from play to underline his threat inside.

With every team announcement on the county website comes a list of players on the extended panel.

Four spring to my mind for different reasons, Killian O’Hanlon (Kilshannig), Daniel O’Mahony (Knocknagree), Briain Murphy (Nemo Rangers) and Conor Corbett (Clyda Rovers).

All face into the coming club championship season with ambitions of staking claims for inclusion in 2023.

O’Hanlon’s presence was missed around the middle due to his cruciate, the same injury, which blighted Corbett’s progress after captaining the 2019 All-Ireland winning minors.

O’Mahony missed out because he was based in Dublin for work, remembering he was full-back against Limerick in last season’s Munster semi-final only to miss the final through injury.

Murphy’s progress will be interesting because he has all the attributes to add more steel to the full-back line, which will also be bolstered by Sean Meehan’s return.

Patience is imperative in a slow build as so eloquently put by Mickey Harte following Louth’s loss to Cork.

“This is the kind of form and standards you need every day you go out and even better than that considering some of the teams in division 2 next year,” he declared.

“It was a good experience for the players and it’s given them time to say ‘let’s get more of the work done’ that teams have to do over time.

“There are certain things you can’t fast-forward because it takes time to mature players to that physical state to those that are at it three or four years.

“It takes effort and dedication along with time and it really is a stage-by-stage process.

“To be at the next level, you’ve got to prepare to do it and not simply just say it.” 

Harte could easily have been speaking about Cork and many others, too.

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